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How to dress like an Oscar winner on a budget

Vanity Fair’s Jessica Coen finds the perfect solution and an ideal dress the Oscar party she will attend.
/ Source: Vanity Fair

If you’re headed to the big show (or, in my case, the big party afterwards) and you’re not a celebrity who has designers clamoring for the chance to swaddle you in their finest creations, how best to dress yourself?

If you’re a woman of significant means, you can always saunter over to a high-end boutique or Bergdorf’s, but what about the rest of us? Yes, there are indeed many people attending the festivities who are not dripping with cash, but who are nevertheless are pressed to dress as if they were. The situation presents a problem.

It’s precisely this conundrum that led Neva Lindner to form Wardrobe NYC, a company that, for a fee, functions as a borrowing house for women in need of quick fashion fixes. The idea first occurred to Lindner when, years ago as an assistant, she was invited to a formal fashion event. “I thought, wouldn’t it be great to be able to just borrow a Fendi or something?” she recalls.

Indeed. Within a few years, she’d found a group of private investors who thought she was on to something, and thus began Wardrobe.

Like most stylists, Lindner and her assistant hunt through the latest collections, buying pieces from labels such as Chloe, Lanvin and Zac Posen. These acquisitions are then added to the Wardrobe wardrobe, so to speak, and are loaned out to clients, who pay a one-time fee of $250 and then 15 percent of the outfit’s retail price. The service isn’t exactly cheap, but considering one could easily pay $3,000 for a dress to be worn just once, the borrowing house strategy isn’t a bad idea at all. And even those women who could easily afford to buy clothes on their own agree: Lindner has worked with television hosts, socialites, models, and the occasional teenager looking for a “My Super Sweet 16”-worthy frock.

Badly in need of a dress for the Vanity Fair Oscar Party, Wardrobe is my best bet for finding something appropriate to wear while rubbing elbows with the A-list without forgoing my rent check.

When I visit her New York showroom, located in an unassuming building near the Holland tunnel, I expect to find one or two racks filled with a small but excellently edited selection of formal wear. Instead, I find a loft converted into a sartorial fantasy come true: rack upon rack of clothes, ranging from  high-priced denim and chic, casual tops to sundress, jackets, and, for my purposes, red-carpet formal wear. An entire wall of the space is lined with even more closets, which are crammed full of even more clothes, most of which are waiting to be brought out for warmer weather.

Most of the Oscar-worthy gowns have already been shipped out to L.A., Lindner’s assistant tells me, but before I head west we decided that I might as well try a few things on. The dressing rooms are set up like bedrooms, making me feel perfectly comfortable as I try on the sort of dresses, so unimaginably gorgeous and expensive, that normally would have made me tremble. A floor-length, nude Narciso Rodriguez gown fit me perfectly, but I fall in love with a hand-beaded Alessandro Dell’Acqua cocktail dress that seemed made for me. Alas, it’s too big — and though Lindner can do temporary hems, the fabric is too fragile for any sort of tailoring. I was in the dress for maybe 90 seconds, but knowing that I won’t wear it leaves me crushed, heartbroken as if my life’s dream had been snatched away from me.

I leave Wardrobe’s New York office empty-handed, but once in L.A. I find salvation. Lindner has most of her dresses shipped to the West Coast for awards season, and within 10 minutes I’ve got my pick: a short, gold Paco Rabanne dress that fits perfectly (or perfectly enough, given that I’ve got very little time left). I won’t lose any more sleep over my Oscar night wardrobe, but now I’ve got another worry keeping me up at night: getting through the night without spilling anything.

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